Here and afar, theater shows captivated audiences

By JULIE McHALE - TImeOut Theater Critic

December 26, 2013


WAUKESHA - It is challenging to pick out the best when there are so many worthy productions to choose from in the live theater scene in our corner of the world. From college and community theaters to local professional companies to a few a little farther away in Fort Atkinson and Spring Green and, of course, the Broadway shows that come to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, we are blessed with many quality offerings. 

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater outdid itself this year with its dazzling “Ragtime,” a spectacle with substance. It gets my vote for the prize. Several other impressive big productions include The Skylight Music Theater’s “Les Miserables,” The Fireside Dinner Theater’s “Sizzling Sixties” and “Annie Get Your Gun” and the Broadway show “Memphis.” All five kept us awed and engaged throughout.

On a smaller scale, the following shows gave us very memorable music - The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret productions of “Forever Plaid,” The Acacia Theatre’s “Quilters,” the Lake Country Players’ “Sweeney Todd,” Carroll University’s “Spring Awakening,” the Waukesha Civic Theatre’s “Oklahoma!” the Sunset Playhouse’s “Red, Hot and Cole” and the Windfall Theatre’s “A Little Night Music.” The musical duo Jack Wilson Forbes and Kay Steifel delighted us with a generous array of tunes in “Sing Me a Story.” The Rep’s Janis Joplin special also was a pretty amazing memorial.

The dramas that moved us most were The Rep’s “Raisin in the Sun,” and “How the World Began.”  Also In Tandem Theatre’s

“Apartment 3A” and “Beast on the Moon,” Sunset’s “Inherit the Wind,” the Next Act Theatre’s “Clockmaker” and “Grace,” Wisconsin Lutheran College’s “Bee Luther Hatchee,” the Boulevard Theatre’s “Tiger Be Still” and “Living Out” and Windfall’s “Time to Live” all gave us plenty to ponder.

It is hard to quantify certain plays. They are dramatic but have a lot humor in them, as well. The following shows met that criterion: Sunset’s “Over the Tavern,” SummerStage Theatre’s “Over the River and Through the Woods,” Renaissance Theaterworks’ “Educating Rita,” Lake Country Players’ “Almost Maine,” and Milwaukee Chambers’ “Art” and “Things Being What They Are.”

My last category is a mishmash, but all of these plays deserve mention, nonetheless. The Renaissance’s beautiful portrayal of Emily Dickinson via Jenny Wanasek in “The Belle of Amherst”;  Acacia’s “Heaven Sent” with David Sapiro’s unforgettable  portrayal of Silas Marner;  Summerstage’s hilarious “Abridged Shakespeare,” Waukesha Civic’s mysterious “Communicating Doors” and “The Inspector Calls” and First Stage’s history play, featuring  “Jackie and Me,” portraying Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough entrance into Major League Baseball. 

Lastly, l have to mention the American Players’ presentation of the best “Hamlet” I’ve ever seen, thanks to the performance of Matt Schwader. Wow, that was almost as dazzling as The Rep’s “Ragtime.”

So we come to another’s year’s end and are grateful to all the theaters who have survived and even thrived, entertained and challenged us to think and laugh and realize the privilege of being human. May you continue to support those actors and directors who are dedicated to the thrill and challenge of live theatre.

Hope to see you in the seats next year.